The most lucrative transfers for MLS academy products, for both club and player, are to Europe.
You know, Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich. DeAndre Yedlin to Tottenham. Brenden Aaronson to RB Salzburg. Reggie Cannon to Boavista. That's the gold standard for clubs getting max value for investment in their academy systems.
But there's a new economy forming as MLS academies continue to mature and more players graduate into first teams around the league: trades within the league. When clubs have more academy talent than available playing time, other teams are starting to come calling. And the price isn't cheap.
Nashville SC acquired Handwalla Bwana on Wednesday from the Seattle Sounders in exchange for $225,000 in General Allocation Money, midfielder Jimmy Medranda, the potential for another $25,000 GAM in incentives as well as a sell-on percentage in any future transfer. This trade is a perfect microcosm for the new economy.
Bwana's talent has been known for a few years around MLS. He's flashed dynamic traits, but minutes just weren't easy to come by in an attack that featured Jordan Morris, Nico Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz. Bwana was restricted to just 14 MLS starts over three seasons, including just 176 minutes on the pitch this season.
So you do Handwalla a solid & send him some place he can play, get a chunk of change and an immediate contributor. Part of the way to leverage a good Homegrown pipeline is occasionally to sell guys on or trade them.— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) October 21, 2020
So like I said, a no-brainer from Seattle's POV.
Seattle's academy has been producing talent for years. Yedlin was the first to go, transferring to Tottenham, then they also have Morris developing into an elite MLS winger and much more in between. Those are two hugely productive outcomes for academy stars: (1) a big-money sale to Europe and (2) an elite player for the first team. The third pathway is emerging and the allocation money returned will help with greater cap flexibility moving forward.
FC Dallas and the Philadelphia Union have done this recently, two of the premier youth development clubs in the league at the moment. Dallas's headline on this front was trading Kellyn Acosta to the Colorado Rapids in a blockbuster deal (for Dom Badji, an international slot and a 50% sell-on clause that will expire at the end of this window) while the Union traded Auston Trusty to the Rapids for $600k GAM, further incentives that could see the package rise another $150k GAM as well as a 30% sell-on fee.
In their place, fellow homegrown talents have stepped in as the academy keeps on churning. Paxton Pomykal, Tanner Tessmann and a handful of others have gotten minutes in the Dallas midfield, while Mark McKenzie blossomed into a Defensive Player of the Year candidate on the Philly backline this year.
It's just another way clubs can maximize their academy investments.
Recent trades involving homegrowns (ranked by $$$)
|Player||Total Allocation (Incentives)||Season||Clubs|
|Auston Trusty||$600k + ($150k)||2020||PHI to COL|
|Handwalla Bwana||$225k + ($25k) + Jimmy Medranda||2020||SEA to NSH|
|Eryk Williamson*||$200k + int'l slot, 2nd round draft pick||2018||DC to POR|
|Derrick Jones||$175k||2019||PHI to NSH|
|Brooks Lennon**||$150k + ($150k)||2020||RSL to ATL|
|Victor Ulloa||$150k + ($100k)||2019||DAL to CIN|
|Wil Trapp||$100k + ($200k)||2020||CLB to MIA|
*Portland acquired Williamson's Homegrown rights
**Lennon was developed in the RSL academy then spent a few years with Liverpool before returning
Back to Wednesday's trade and the other side of this transaction.
Bwana heads to Nashville, a new club in their expansion season with a young academy that has also been able to acquire a number of talented young players, both domestic and international.
This is not the first talented homegrown player from another MLS club Nashville have acquired in their expansion season. Earlier this window, they traded for New York Red Bulls winger Alex Muyl. Last summer they acquired Derrick Jones from the Union.
The buying clubs hope they found a market inefficiency and just another way to boost their own panoply of young talent. The Rapids have been at the vanguard of this movement. Colorado have acquired Trusty and Acosta, as well as rising young players like Jonathan Lewis, Keegan Rosenberry and Diego Rubio from within the league.
Looking a few years back, Columbus Crew SC traded Ola Kamara to the LA Galaxy for their homegrown Gyasi Zardes. The Crew also received $400k in Targeted Allocation Money. Zardes has since scored 43 goals in 79 games for the Crew.
There will continue to be plenty of opportunities for clubs stocked with homegrown talent to gain a return on their investment, as well as shrewd clubs looking for talent that can potentially flourish with a fresh start. MLS academies continue to improve and mature, more and more players are finding their way to first-team contracts, and more initiatives will be in place to encourage MLS clubs to sign young talent.
If more young players arrive from abroad, as has been the case year after year, it becomes even harder for academy players to break through. But there will be other avenues for playing time in MLS as more of these trades continue to happen.
Not every talent will be Davies, Yedlin, Aaronson or Cannon. That's okay. That can still have productive careers and prove hugely valuable for the club that developed them.